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At the Movies: Independence Day for Product Placement King Tom Hanks

Posted by Abe Sauer on June 30, 2011 06:30 PM

We've already looked at the Chevy tie-in for Transformers 3 and noted how the film is the third installment in a trifecta of films — with Fast Five and Cars 2 — that make automakers squeal with delight.

So let's look at what else is hitting theaters this Independence Day weekend, including product placement champ Tom Hanks' new joint, and the Ford viral tie-in that managed to win out despite the timing.

The names that come to mind when the term "product placement" is thrown around tend to be "Michael Bay" and the like. Rarely does anyone think, let alone say, "Tom Hanks."

Yet Hanks is a central player in some of the most iconic (and thus reviled) product placements of all time.

Think Wilson and FedEx from Castaway. AOL, Visa and Starbucks in You've Got Mail. Dr. Pepper and Apple from Forrest Gump. The voice of Woody from Toy Story, a franchise that practically single-handedly saved the Barbie brand. Everything in The Terminal. Pepsi in Big.

And so we come to Hanks' latest effort, Larry Crowne. Interesting then that it appears to be going in a whole new direction.

“FiestaBo" was the viral campaign featuring  Tom Hanks’ assistant Bo Stevenson, which meant to bring attention to the Ford Fiesta, which also has a placement in Crowne.

The channel features "FiestaBo" sitting in his Fiesta and energetically talking into the camera about… well, about being Tom Hanks' assistant. One entry is titled "what it's like to drive actor Tom Hanks to work in the Fiesta," making him a human version of Ford's spokespuppet, Doug.

In another video, Bo helps Hanks make script changes.

The FiestaBo campaign actually highlights the challenge (or opportunity) for product tie-ins, given how film production schedules and film release schedules don't always go as planned. The viral took place in 2010, but Crowne did not get released until mid-2011.

Of this odd viral experiement, product placement expert Cat Stone, of Stone Management Inc., told us, "[FiestaBo] was innovative in the fact that we ran it at the wrap of principle photography instead of waiting for the film to release. It was a way to go beyond the fan base that both Tom and Julia (Roberts) typically pull in, and also attract a younger crowd." It seems to have accomplished this; despite the short time it ran, FiestaBo racked up 20,000 followers.

Stone says that even though Fiestabo was initially set up to run up to Crowne's release, it ended up serving other purposes. "Fiestabo was a big Larry Crowne catalyst for the official studio Facebook page," Stone said. Plus, it ended up serving as behind the scenes footage when Crowne's release date finally did approach. Access Hollywood used one of the clips during a promo.

Hanks, who produced Crowne, has since started HanxOnSet.com, which uses some of the Fiesta piece in another big cross-promotion for Ford.

Not that Ford is the only vehicular brand getting love in Hanks' film. Vespa, the scooter brand, gets loads of screen time. Stone says that her firm handled the placement of all the Vespas, though, she points out, "Hanks was actually on a used Honda."

Even though FedEx was happy to be portrayed as Hanks' employer when he crashed and was Castaway on a deserted island, there were no takers this time to fill in as the big box brand that fires Larry in order to kickstart the film's plot.

Stone, who also handled product integrations in Crowne for Dell, Mejor Tequila, Cuisinart, and Oreck, tells us that when she came onboard, Walmart was already "written as UMart" (even though those scenes were shot at a Kmart).

A year, Hanks tweeted from the Larry Crowne set this picture, holding his Woody character at the Kmart stand-in store's display for Toy Story 3:

Another film opening this July 4th weekend: Monte Carlo, a teenybopper "switched identity" romp that, from this clip, shows a little product placement gusto.

And OK: even though we've already sifted through Transformers 3 for pre-opening product placement parsing, here's an image of two models that also appear in Transformers 3. One is a foreign import that you can dream about taking out for a test drive (but don't hold your breath); the other is a Mercedes.

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